Over the last three weekends, Major League Baseball has had three very similar incidents of pitchers seemingly throwing at or near hitters with purpose, and the handling of the three incidents couldn't be more different. You cannot find a consistent strain of administration.
Two weeks ago, Jose Bautista stepped into the batter's box in Texas for what appeared to be his final plate appearance of the season against the Rangers, a team he played a big part in beating in the playoffs last fall, a team he angered and haunted with his bat flip. There was ugly history on the docket, but to that moment, the Rangers hadn't acted on it. Until, that is, Rangers pitcher Matt Bush, drilled Bautista with a fastball.
Plate umpire Dan Iassogna, certainly well aware of the past tensions, did not eject Bush; instead, he warned both teams. A few minutes later, the two teams brawled infamously after Bautista slid into second base aggressively.
Last weekend, Toronto's Josh Donaldson got into a back-and-forth with the Minnesota Twins bench. He came to bat in the fifth inning last Sunday, and Phil Hughes, a pitcher of precision who holds the single-season record for strikeout-to-walk ratio in a season, threw way inside to Donaldson, barely missing him. His next fastball went behind the hitter. Hughes wasn't warned or ejected, and when manager John Gibbons complained about that, he was tossed.
On Saturday night, Noah Syndergaard of the Mets pitched against Chase Utley, who acknowledged early in the week that he might be the possible target of retaliation stemming from his slide into Ruben Tejada during the playoffs last fall, a play that broke Tejada's leg and cost the Mets their shortstop. Syndergaard fired a fastball behind Utley -- and was immediately ejected by plate umpire Adam Hamari.
Three similar situations, handled by three umpires applying the same set of rules and guidelines in very different ways.
So as MLB officials review the Syndergaard incident, they need to address a couple of simple questions:
1. Is it acceptable for pitchers to throw a baseball at or near the hitter to deliver a message to opposing hitters and teams?